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SMU coach June Jones has resigned after an 0-2 start this year. Jones is the first coach of the season to be fired or resign.
Defensive coordinator Tom Mason will be promoted to interim coach, with Dan Morrison and Jason Phillips sharing play-calling duties on offense.
Jones was a key hire for SMU, as he arrived in Dallas after recording a 76-41 record during his nine-year tenure at Hawaii. The Warriors showed immediate improvement under Jones, going from 0-12 in the year prior to his arrival, to a 9-4 mark and a bowl victory in 1999.
Jones also guided Hawaii to a BCS bowl appearance in 2007.
However, Jones left Hawaii for Dallas after that season and struggled to find early success with the Mustangs.
SMU went 1-11 in Jones’ debut and finished winless in conference play in 2008.
The Mustangs rebounded by playing in four consecutive bowl games from 2009-12 and finished 5-7 in their first season of American Athletic play in 2013.
Despite making four consecutive bowl games for a program that has struggled to maintain success since the death penalty in 1987, there were plenty of rumblings from the SMU fanbase about Jones’ tenure.
And those rumblings only grew louder once the Mustangs started 2014 with an 0-2 record, which included a 45-0 loss to Baylor and a 43-6 defeat at the hands of North Texas.
SMU is a job with plenty of potential, as its located in a fertile recruiting area and has a history of success. With an opportunity to play in the American Athletic Conference, there's also good exposure on key television networks.
Names to watch in SMU’s coaching search:
David Beaty, wide receivers coach, Texas A&M
Philip Montgomery, offensive coordinator, Baylor
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Rick Neuheisel, former UCLA coach
Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, East Carolina
Jake Spavital, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M
Only two games onto the job and James Franklin will have the tools to return Penn State to full strength.
The NCAA and Big Ten relieved sanctions on Penn State on Monday, allowing the Nittany Lions to play in a bowl and the Big Ten title game in 2014 in addition to allowing the program to return to a full allotment of scholarships for the class of 2015.
The orginial sanctions banned Penn State from the posteason through the 2015 season and restricted scholarships through 2017.
The NCAA’s decision to restore Penn State’s bowl eligibility comes after George Mitchell, the school’s appointed athletics integrity monitor, recommended the changes in his annual report to the NCAA. Mitchell’s report helps the NCAA and Penn State gauge its athletic department and progress from the sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
This is the second reduction in penalties from the NCAA to Penn State since the sanctions were originally announced. Last year, the NCAA allowed Penn State to sign 20 players and have 75 scholarship athletes on the roster. The original plan after the reduction was to allow the program to sign 25 players for 2015 and have a full allotment of 85 players in 2016.
Read the NCAA’s full release on Penn State’s reduction in sanctions
The Main Takeaway
This is a huge boost for Penn State’s football program. After the penalties and sanctions were announced, most expected the Nittany Lions would take a huge hit in the standings for the next five-to-10 years. The impact of losing scholarship players would limit the team’s depth, and a bowl ban would prevent the program from attracting elite recruiting classes.
But that’s no longer a concern.
Penn State isn’t ready to challenge for a national championship in 2014 or 2015, but the outlook for the program, already buoyed by the hires of Bill O'Brien and James Franklin, have improved thanks to a full allotment of scholarships and the possibility of postseason play.
Here is a look at penalties were originally levied in June 2012 and what they actually turned out to be
|Penalty||As Stated on June 23, 2012||Actual impact|
|Fines/Forfeiture of Bowl Revenue||$60 million (NCAA), $13 million (Big Ten)||Enforced|
|Vacated wins||112 from 1998-2011||Enforced|
|Tranfers||Allowed players to transfer without penalty||Enforced, nine players transferred|
|Postseason bans||Banned from bowls and Big Ten championship game from 2012-15||Banned from bowls and Big Ten championship game from 2012-13|
|Scholarship reductions (by year)|
|2012||85 on roster (25 on NSD)||85 (25)|
|2013||15 on NSD||15 on NSD|
|2014||65 total (15 on NSD)||75 total (20 on NSD)|
|2015||65 (15)||85 (25)|
|2016||65 (15)||85 (25)|
|2017||65 (25)||85 (25)|
|2018||85 (25)||85 (25)|
While this is a boost to Penn State, don’t forget about the impact on the Big Ten as a whole. The conference desperately needs some good news after struggling with its on-field product in recent years. Ohio State and Michigan State have been top-10 programs in recent seasons, and Penn State – with a full roster and an outstanding coach – can join those ranks soon.
What This Means for 2014
Penn State is a contender for the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions have yet to turn in an overwhelming performance in their two contests, but the rest of the Big Ten hasn’t either.
The strength of the Big Ten lies in the East Division, where the Nittany Lions are battling Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State for the No. 1 spot. The Spartans are the frontrunner, but Penn State hosts Mark Dantonio’s team in on Nov. 29. And here’s another element of intrigue for Penn State’s schedule: Ohio State visits Happy Valley on Oct. 25.
The schedule is in the Nittany Lions’ favor, as the top two teams in the division play at Beaver Stadium. And it’s late enough in the season where Penn State’s offensive line should have some time to develop.
There are potential landmines on the schedule outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, including a road trip to an Indiana team that defeated Penn State 44-24 in 2013. Penn State also travels to Michigan on Oct. 11.
New coach James Franklin inherited plenty of talent from Bill O’Brien, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg who has thrown for 773 yards (No. 4 nationally) and completed 65.1 percent of his passes through two games. Hackenberg’s development — along with the emergence of Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton at receiver — is critical with an offensive line that is thin on depth and proven options. Developing a rushing attack is critical for Penn State to make the jump into conference title contention, as the Nittany Lions are averaging only 2.8 yards per attempt.
Defensively, Penn State ranks among the best in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are allowing just 13.5 points per contest and 4.3 yards per play. Similar to the offense, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is also dealing with depth issues. However, Penn State’s starting 11 on defense is good enough to push for 10 wins.
It’s not tangible with a stat, but there’s also a natural boost Penn State should get from having something to play for at the end of the year. The Nittany Lions are no longer just about playing for pride. A Big Ten title, a playoff spot and a bowl game are now real possibilities.
With a proven coach like Franklin, a standout quarterback in Hackenberg and an emerging defense, Penn State has the pieces in place to push for a conference title.
Franklin is known as a relentless recruiter, and his pitch has already paid off for the Nittany Lions. Penn State inked the No. 24 class in 2014 and is off to a hot start for 2015, ranking No. 7 nationally with 19 three or four-star prospects committed.
With limited scholarships, Franklin and his staff had to be selective and depth was going to be an issue over the next few years. With a full allotment to use, Penn State will be able to sign a better class with more depth, which especially helps units like the offensive and defensive lines – two areas that are critical in the Big Ten.
With the ability to play in a bowl, it should help Franklin sell the program to more recruits who may have stayed away from the Nittany Lions with the uncertainty surrounding its postseason future.
There’s no question Franklin knows how to recruit. Under his watch, Vanderbilt signed the No. 26 class in 2013.
With the possibility of postseason play, a program on the verge of rebounding, and a young, energetic coach in Franklin, Penn State is poised to emerge as a top 15 program on a consistent basis over the next few seasons.
Here's how Penn State has fared before and after sanctions. All figures are from the 247Sports Composite. The 2015, obviously, remains a work-in-progress until commits sign letters of intent.
|National Rank||Big Ten Rank||Coach on NSD|
Bill O'Brien on PSU news: "Penn State is a fantastic place. ... Very happy for Penn State, mostly for the players and the coaching staff."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 8, 2014
Finally a correction. NCAA was wrong about the Penn State football culture and had no business handing down sanctions. Was not their case.— Todd Blackledge (@Todd_Blackledge) September 8, 2014
Today is a memorable day for these young men! The men who stayed together for each other! Today Penn State is back! pic.twitter.com/GoZXRLwL1X— Josh Gattis (@Coach_Gattis) September 8, 2014
Scott Paterno said a family lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State will continue despite the NCAA's most recent reduction in sanctions.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) September 8, 2014
Due to Penn State’s progress in ensuring athletics dept functions with integrity, NCAA immediately restores football postseason eligibility.— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) September 8, 2014
James Franklin statement: pic.twitter.com/vVUSG7HZ3y— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) September 8, 2014
Richmond International Raceway hosted 650 laps of racing this weekend within NASCAR’s two major series — Nationwide and Sprint Cup — with 633 of those laps led by just two drivers. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch dominated each event, making the most interesting moment at NASCAR’s “most competitive” short track a drunken guy that climbed to the top of the catchfencing. Busch led all 250 circuits in the Nationwide event — a race that has averaged a whopping two lead changes in the last three NNS events held there.
What a fitting way to end NASCAR’s regular season in a year that started off competitive but appears to have lost its way. Five of the first 12 Cup races featured 30 lead changes or more, including a whopping 35 at former cookie-cutter failure Fontana. Since, the lead changes have maxed out at 25 over the last 14 races, with half those events featuring 15 lead changes or less. In the midst of two upset victories (AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola) we’ve seen two organizations, Hendrick Motorsports and Penske Racing, sweep the other dozen events heading into the postseason. The dreaded “aero push” is back, making passing difficult and putting victories in the hands of engineers and crew chiefs, via pit strategy.
Passing, which had seen an initial improvement this season, has dropped off, with most drivers limiting their movement to frantic, aggressive moves on restarts. Charging forward over long green-flag runs continues to be a problem, hurting the competition as cautions have been fewer and farther between. The only yellow flags at Richmond were for the drunkard, a competition yellow (because of rain cutting into practice time) and two for debris. Matt Kenseth, on a night when several drivers had “win or else” mandates, was the only competitor to hit the wall at a short track … a short track! Saturday night, cars raced so far apart from each other you’d have thought contact was punishable by a stop-and-go penalty.
NASCAR hopes things pick up with its new version of the Chase, a three-round elimination playoff designed to combat the NFL. But football saw seven of its first dozen contests hit overtime, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. NASCAR can’t do the same if it continues throwing up stinkers like we saw on Saturday night.
“Through the Gears” we go …
FIRST GEAR: Penske Power
It was clear in the midst of so much conservatism at Richmond that Brad Keselowski was out to prove something. The 2012 champ hit rock bottom here last season as a 17th-place result, after leading 142 of the first 268 laps, left him on the outside of the Chase looking in. He was just the second reigning champion, joining Tony Stewart in 2006, to fail at defending that title in NASCAR’s playoff era.
This season, Keselowski has surged back in a big way and he was determined to enter as the Chase’s top seed. Leading 383 of 400 laps, the No. 2 Ford was rarely challenged on a night where the only question was not if he would win but by how much.
“I give him a lot of credit because he's pushing the team, he's pushing Paul (Wolfe, crew chief),” said team owner Roger Penske. “He and Joey together, they're working each other, trying to find the speed in the cars.”
The victory was Penske’s 400th across both his NASCAR and IndyCar programs, and he’s in the best position yet to earn a dual championship after Will Power took care of business at Fontana last week. Keselowski, with four victories, has been on top of his game in the past month and teammate Joey Logano is poised to take the next step after a three-victory, career-year driving the No. 22. Beating the four-car Hendrick juggernaut will be tough, but this organization has done it before when Keselowski outlasted Jimmie Johnson in a punch-for-punch battle down the stretch two years ago. If you’re looking to root for a team with a realistic shot at unseating Hendrick Motorsports, Penske’s your choice.
SECOND GEAR: Clint couldn’t get it done
Despite an expansion to 16 drivers, several high-profile competitors missed the Chase this year. Tony Stewart’s season of problems, culminating with the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, have been well documented. Highly-touted rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon showed varying degrees of promise but couldn’t reach victory lane. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, while remaining a couple off the racetrack, have been a couple of slowpokes on it.
But perhaps the most glaring omission is Toyota’s Michael Waltrip Racing, which failed to cash in one year after the “Spingate” scandal that publicized team orders and rocked NASCAR. The end result of Clint Bowyer’s spin, done intentionally to try and get teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase, was Truex missing the field, a 13th driver added (Jeff Gordon) and a loss of sponsorship support that caused MWR to contract to two teams.
Co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, who runs the Race Team Alliance (RTA), said a streamlined operation would make them better. But that hasn’t been the case. In a year when Toyota has just two wins, the organization has led just 118 laps combined between its cars driven by Bowyer, Brian Vickers and a third “test alliance” co-owned by Jay Robinson and manned by a handful of retreads or up-and-comers.
Richmond, historically one Bowyer’s best tracks, became the spotlight for recent struggles. In April, the No. 15 5-Hour Energy car was one of the fastest in practice only to end up behind the wall after spinning Kyle Larson on the first turn of the first lap, then losing the handle. They came better prepared this weekend, but a third-place effort wasn’t enough to unseat Greg Biffle and sneak into the Chase on points.
“Every time we take a step ahead, something drags us a couple of steps back,” said Bowyer, whose broken shifter at Atlanta ultimately doomed his playoff hopes. “When you make that Chase, you want to be able to compete for a championship and I’m an optimist but I’m a realist. Right now, realistically, we don’t have a shot at winning that championship against the competition we’re running against.”
As for Vickers, his demise was also due to a handful of DNFs. Ranked 22nd in the standings is a disappointment in his first full season behind the wheel in Cup since 2011 after health problems nearly brought his racing career to a close.
“We’ve had some really bad luck this year,” he said, running 13th at Richmond and never a factor. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, we made our own mistakes and every team is going to make mistakes throughout the year — we just had too much go wrong out of our control to make up for our turn in the barrel.”
THIRD GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing short on short tracks
Speaking of Toyotas struggling, what is up with Joe Gibbs Racing’s short track program? It used to dominate Richmond, where it won five in a row from 2009-11. Hometown favorite Denny Hamlin alternated time in the winner’s circle with teammate Kyle Busch. But Saturday night, neither one reached the top 10, while Matt Kenseth slapped the wall and ran 41st. It’s continuing a trend; JGR’s three drivers have failed to find victory lane on a short track , posting a total of three top-5 finishes in those 15 starts. Only Kenseth, who nearly won Bristol last month, has shown an ability to contend on a regular basis.
“We all have to get better as a company and where that comes from, we don’t know,” said Busch, whose confrontations with other drivers, as well as crew chief Dave Rogers, have peaked in the past month. “If we could have figured that out a while ago, trust me, we’d be running better.”
JGR still needs to be considered a player in the Chase — it is, after all, Toyotas flagship program. Kenseth, in particular, owns the consistency to keep moving forward. But “settling” for top-15 performances at their strongest type of facility does not bode well for an extended playoff run.
FOURTH GEAR: Setting up the Chase
The 16-driver field for the Chase is now set, with winless drivers Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman joining the grid on points. The final makeup is heavily weighted toward Ford and Chevrolet. Hendrick Motorsports leads the Bowtie brigade, putting all four drivers in the field (Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) while Stewart-Haas Racing adds a pair in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Richard Childress Racing, with Newman and JTG-Daugherty’s AJ Allmendinger, give the manufacturer a total of eight cars.
Ford responds with five of its own: the Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, along with Roush Fenway’s Biffle, the “lame duck” Carl Edwards and first-timer Chaser Aric Almirola, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. JGR’s three Toyotas — Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — round out the field.
Early indications are with the three-round Chase format you’ll see the underdog teams fall by the wayside quickly. Chicagoland, Loudon and Dover aren’t the type of places where big wrecks or bad parts failures muddy the waters. That said, just ask Earnhardt how one tough break can wreck things. His blown engine at Chicagoland last season is the only reason the No. 88 team never contended for a title.
I’ll go with Biffle, Almirola, Allmendinger and Kyle Busch (with a tough break somewhere) to be the first four out in NASCAR’s new format. And the Final Four? Much too early to say, but if it’s anyone outside of Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt, Logano and Keselowski (the five drivers with three or more victories) I’ll be very surprised. This Chase is one where the favorites come in with a heavy advantage.
Danica Patrick, with a solid 16th Saturday night, has three top-20 finishes in the last four Cup Series races. Up next? Chicagoland, where she had one of her better rookie performances (20th) in 2013. Could things be looking up at the No. 10 camp? At 28th in the standings and 28 points behind boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica still has a long way to go. But you have to start building that foundation somewhere. … The drunken man who climbed the catchfencing at RIR and caused a caution was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Security was shown on fan video with their backs turned as the unidentified man snuck past to climb. … Brad Keselowski’s dominating win gave him 1,278 laps led on the season, tops the Sprint Cup chart. Only Kevin Harvick (1,186) and Jimmie Johnson (1,035) have led more than 1,000.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Richmond International Raceway
Week 2 is in the books and the Big Ten should be worried. Hosts David Fox and Braden Gall recap all of the action from Week 2, including the Big Ten's struggles, the Ducks marquee win, the Hokies huge upset and Pat Haden's behavior. Was the Pac-12 a winner this weekend or a loser? That and much more on this edition of the Cover 2 podcast.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 8:
• The NFL's cheerleaders are already in midseason form, as this gallery reveals.
• Nothing like a kick to a punter's face to signal the return of America's Game. Good to have you back, football. Here are the best Vines and GIFs from a tasty weekend on the gridiron.
• Roger Goodell's having a no good, very bad Monday thanks to the ongoing stench of the Ray Rice situation. If you feel like you need to see the newly available video of the knockout punch, which according to Peter King was in Goodell's possession when he "disciplined" Rice, then click here. It's beyond sickening.
• This is interesting: Kareem defends Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson over his supposedly racist email.
• Here's an interview with ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen on the occasion of the Worldwide Leader's 35th birthday.
• I can endorse this chick-mance (or whatever the chick version of a bromance is called): Serena and Woz partied after their U.S. Open final.
• Dumbass alert: A fan climbed to the top of the catchfence at Richmond. During the race. This won't help class up the image of the typical NASCAR fan.
• Derek Jeter answered a reporter's phone during a presser, like the boss he is.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Two NFC teams looking to bounce back after disappointing seasons will face off tonight when the New York Giants and Detroit Lions open up ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” Week 1 doubleheader. Both the Giants and Lions posted 7-9 records last season and will be introducing new offenses tonight, a process that had mixed results during the preseason.
The all-time series between the two franchises is tied at 20-20-1, but the Giants have won the last three meetings overall and the last five played in Detroit. The most recent matchup came in Week 16 last season, a 23-20 New York victory in overtime. The Giants needed a fourth-quarter interception returned for a touchdown to tie the game before winning it in overtime on a 45-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Detroit -6
Three Things to Watch
1. These are Now Jim Caldwell’s Lions
After going 29-51 in five seasons and making the playoffs just once, Detroit fired Jim Schwartz and replaced him with Caldwell. A longtime Tony Dungy assistant, Caldwell took over the Colts after his friend and mentor retired following the 2008 season, going 24-8 in his first two seasons, including an AFC title as a rookie head coach in ‘09. The bottom fell out in 2011, however, when Peyton Manning was sidelined due to a neck injury, as Indianapolis cratered to an NFL-worst 2-14. The losing would net the Colts their next franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, but it also cost Caldwell his job. After a two-year stint with Baltimore, highlighted by him taking over as offensive coordinator prior to the Ravens’ Super Bowl run in 2012, Caldwell is getting a second chance as head coach with the Lions. His hiring was received with quite a bit of skepticism and head shaking, so it’s up to Caldwell to show everyone he’s the right man for this job. One way to do so would be to change the general perception of the Lions, a team that was characterized by missed opportunities, a lack of discipline and produced quite a bit of off-field drama during Schwartz’ tenure. A strong showing at home against a team considered to be less talented would certainly serve as a nice opening statement for the Caldwell era in the Motor City.
2. New Season, New Offenses
Not surprisingly, a head coaching change in Detroit means new coordinators. Jim Caldwell brought in Joe Lombardi, who had been New Orleans quarterbacks coach since 2009, to serve as his offensive coordinator. Everyone knows the numbers Drew Brees has put up with the Saints, so Lion fans are no doubt hoping for similar results from Matthew Stafford. Neither the quarterback nor the coordinator lacks for weapons to work with, as Golden Tate and first-round pick Eric Ebron have joined Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Meanwhile, longtime Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride retired, so quarterback Eli Manning was tasked this offseason with not only getting to know the new guy, but also learning a new offense. Tom Coughlin tabbed Ben McAdoo, quarterbacks coach for the Packers the past two seasons, to lead the overhaul of the Giants’ offense. Considering Gilbride had been in place the past seven seasons, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of learning curve for Manning and the Giants. And this inexperience certainly showed during the preseason. Now that the games count, however, there will be only so much tolerance and patience awarded these two “rookie” offensive coordinators, especially from fan bases eager to see their teams get back to the postseason.
3. The Battle in the Trenches
It may seem cliché, but one of the keys to consistently winning in the NFL is strong play up front. In this respect, Detroit seems to have a clear edge over New York when it comes to both lines. The Lions’ offensive line, young and somewhat inexperienced entering last season, found its stride as the 2013 campaign progressed and returns intact. On the other side of the ball, Detroit could have one of the NFL’s most disruptive defensive lines with last year’s second-round pick Ziggy Ansah and fellow draft classmate Devin Taylor manning the outside and All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and a recommitted and determined Nick Fairley anchoring the middle. Contrast that to the Giants, who are already dealing with a key injury to one of their best offensive linemen and will be fielding a starting unit that’s full of question marks. Defensively, the success of New York’s front four will likely come down to the health and performance of Jason Pierre-Paul. A defensive playmaker on par with a J.J. Watt or Von Miller, Pierre-Paul is looking to regain his 2011 All-Pro form now that he’s a year removed from back surgery. Pierre-Paul’s solitary importance to the Giants’ defense is yet another indicator why Detroit appears to be in much better shape up front, on both sides of the ball, entering this season.
After starting last season 0-6, New York would obviously love to get the 2014 season started on a positive note. Detroit meanwhile is looking to get the Jim Caldwell era started with a bang. The Giants are just two seasons removed from their most recent Super Bowl title, but this is a team that has struggled to maintain its roster amidst plenty of turnover. Even though the Lions are a team undergoing a coaching change, they don’t lack for Pro Bowl-caliber players on either side of the ball. New York has a championship pedigree and a potential Hall of Fame head coach in Tom Coughlin, but Caldwell has more talent and a clear edge when it comes to the line of scrimmage. The Giants won’t go quietly, but I expect the Lions to make enough plays to give the home fans plenty to cheer for and likewise their new head coach his first victory.
Prediction: Detroit 31, New York Giants 23
Week 1 of the NFL regular season concludes with an interesting cross-conference affair between the San Diego Chargers and the Arizona Cardinals on ESPN. The second half of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” doubleheader features two teams that posted winning records in 2013, with the Chargers (9-7) advancing to the playoffs while the Cardinals (10-6) just missed out on the final NFC Wild Card spot.
San Diego leads all the all-time series with Arizona 9-3. The last meeting occurred back in 2010, a 41-10 Chargers home victory powered by two Philip Rivers-to-Antonio Gates touchdown passes.
San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
Kickoff: 10:20 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Arizona -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Arizona’s Fractured Front Seven
Even though they missed the playoffs, the Cardinals went 10-6 last season, powered by one of the NFL’s best defenses. Arizona finished sixth in total defense, gave up the fewest rushing yards and was seventh in points allowed at 20.3 per game. Defense was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths once again, but instead this unit has been hit hard by roster turnover, injuries and other circumstances. Linebacker and leading tackler Karlos Dansby signed a big free-agent deal with Cleveland. Then running mate Daryl Washington was suspended for all of 2014 for another violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. The next big blow came in training camp when defensive end Darnell Dockett tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his season before it even started. And the hits may not be over, as linebacker John Abraham, who led the team with 11.5 sacks last season, could end up facing some measure of league discipline stemming from a DUI incident in June. This much is clear; the Cardinals’ front seven will look nothing like it did at the end of last season, which puts a lot of pressure on what is now an inexperienced and dangerously thin group of defenders.
2. Backfields in Motion
San Diego’s ground game averaged a respectable 122.8 yards rushing per game last season, good for 13th in the NFL. Ryan Mathews led the way with a career-best 1,255 yards, but he was not a one-man show. Danny Woodhead, who signed as a free agent, got more than 100 carries and was second on the team with 76 receptions. Despite the production the Chargers got from this pair, general manager Tom Telesco signed free agent Donald Brown. How head coach Mike McCoy and first-year offensive coordinator Frank Reich dole out the touches in the backfield is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly a situation worth watching. Especially considering the fact that Mathews is entering the final year of his rookie contract, while Brown and Woodhead have both already signed longer deals. Arizona’s situation, on the other hand, would be a little more settled, if not for the fact that Andre Ellington is nursing a foot injury and may not even play. After leading the league with a 5.5-yards-per-carry average (min. 100 carries) as a rookie, Ellington was expected to carry a much heavier load on offense. Now with reports saying he could be out as long as a month, the Cardinals could be forced to turn to a committee of veteran Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor, the team’s fifth-round pick last year. This duo combined for a total of 312 yards rushing on 85 carries last season. So in many ways, both teams enter their 2014 opener with uncertainty in their respective backfields, although the Chargers are probably in a little better shape because they appear to have healthier options.
3. On Second(ary) Thought
As weakened as Arizona’s defensive front seven may appear entering tonight’s contest, at least head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t have to worry about his secondary. Even though the Cardinals reside in the same division as Seattle’s “Legion of Boom,” Arizona may be able to claim the NFL’s best secondary before this season is over. It starts with a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson and new Cardinal Antonio Cromartie and also features 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist free safety Tyrann Mathieu. The former LSU Tiger is recovering from a torn ACL and LCL he suffered last December, but it’s possible Mathieu could be back on the field as early as tonight. In the meantime, Deone Bucannon, the 27th player taken in May’s draft, is a big, physical strong safety who should fit right in with this group. Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ passing game will have its work cut out for them against this secondary. On the other side, San Diego’s passing defense was one of the NFL’s worst last season and the only significant addition during the offseason was former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett. The 21st player taken in the draft, Verrett is a gritty and fundamentally sound corner, but he’s also undersized at just 5-10. Besides being a rookie, Verrett’s first assignment in the NFL will be trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, a pair of explosive wide receivers who stand 6-3 and 6-2 respectively. With so much emphasis on the passing game it appears that the Cardinals, despite their issues elsewhere on defense, has a distinct advantage as it relates to the back end.
Arizona enters this game as a slight favorite and if the Cardinals were even close to full strength, I would side with the home team. However, Bruce Arians’ defense is nowhere near full strength, especially up front, and there’s a really good chance that lead back Andre Ellington doesn’t suit up either. Even though the Cardinals have a stout secondary that should make things difficult for Philip Rivers and San Diego’s passing game, I just don’t like the fact that Arizona is opening its season so shorthanded in the first place. The Chargers opened up many eyes with their 2013 playoff run in Mike McCoy’s first season, and this relatively young team should only continue to get better, especially on defense. The Cardinals have a solid veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer, who should have even more time to throw to his playmakers with an improved offensive line, but the uncertainty in the backfield and a decimated defensive front seven are just going to be too much to overcome tonight.
Prediction: San Diego 23, Arizona 20
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 1 of the NFL season:
11 Amazing Pro Football Stats from Week 1
17: Jacksonville has largest lead in over a year; Philadelphia turns it into a comeback only two teams have matched since 1940
On the way to a 17-0 halftime lead on the road, Jacksonville quickly surpassed the largest lead it had all of last season (14), and the largest halftime lead it has had since Week 7 in 2012. However, the homestanding Eagles went on to mount a second-half comeback that had only been accomplished one other time since 1940. As part of its 34-17 victory, Philadelphia's 17-point comeback and 17-point win helped the Eagles join Buffalo as the only two teams since 1940 to pull off such a feat. Buffalo also trailed by 17 against Cincinnati in 2010 before winning 49-31. The comeback win also pushed Philadelphia to 2-39 since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger when trailing by at least 17 at half. The other win was DeSean Jackson's electrifying punt return for the game winner against the Giants (2010).
49: Darren Sproles' 49-yard score starts Eagles' comeback and is third-longest fourth-down score for Philadelphia since 2000
Darren Sproles' 49-yard scoring run on fourth down got the Eagles on the scoreboard and kickstarted their comeback run against Jacksonville in Week 1. The 49-yard score was the third-longest fourth-down play for Philadelphia since 2000. LeSean McCoy had a 50-yard TD run against the Giants in 2010, and Brian Dawkins had a 57-yard score as part of a potpourri day against Houston in 2002, when he became the first player in NFL history to record a sack, recover a fumble, intercept a ball, and catch a touchdown in one game; the touchdown was the 57-yard reception from Brian Mitchell on a fake punt.
278: Roethlisberger's 278 yards pass in first half are a career high for the first 30 minutes
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for a 278 yards in the first half — a career high for an opening half — and helped the Steelers build a 27-3 halftime lead. The 278 yards are the most in the first half of a season opener in the NFL since Donvan McNabb in 2008 (297). All those yards nearly went for naught, as the Steelers needed a last-second field goal to score a 30-27 victory. Roethlisberger finished with 365 passing yards for the game.
3: Tennessee scores 20+ points on the road for just the third time since 1998 in a road opener
Since moving to Nashville in 1998, the Tennessee Titans have opened on the road 11 times, losing seven of those Week 1 contests. And in eight of those contests, the Titans have failed to score 20+ points. However, in the three in which they have reached 20 points, they are 3-0. Tennessee hit 3-0 on Sunday with a 26-10 victory in Kansas City, reeling off 23 unanswered points in one stretch. The Titans average 24 PPG in the three Week 1 road wins and 13.3 PPG in the eight road losses.
25: Dallas' halftime deficit was its largest ever in a season opener
In a meeting of two depleted defenses, it was San Francisco collecting four first-half turnovers on the way to a 28-3 lead en route to a 28-17 victory. The 25-point deficit was the largest halftime deficit for Dallas in a season opener, and only the fourth time in team history the Cowboys have trailed by 25+ at home a the half. The team fell to 0-15 all time when trailing by at least 25 points at intermission.
4: New England is alone in fourth place in AFC East for first time in Tom Brady era
OK, it's only Week 1, but Tom Brady and the New England Patriots find themselves residing in a rare place — last in the AFC East. A 33-20 loss to division rival Miami Sunday left the Pats alone in last place for the first time since Brady became the starting quarterback (2001).
14: Oakland loses 14th straight game in Eastern time zone
This has always been one of those fun (read: ridiculous) stats to follow, but the Raiders keep adding to the total. On Sunday, they made it 14 straight losses in the Eastern time zone with a 19-14 loss against the New York Jets. If you're tired of hearing about Oakland's inability to win in the East, buckle up, because its next two road games are in the Eastern time zone (New England and Cleveland).
92: Carolina's Benjamin has more receiving yards (92) in debut than Steve Smith had in any 2013 game
In a little over three quarters, Carolina rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin had already collected more yards in his NFL debut than the now-departed Steve Smith had in any one game all of last year. Benjamin had six catches for 92 yards and a score (26) as the fourth quarter began, and finished 6-for-92 yards in the Panthers' 20-14 win over host and NFC South rival Tampa Bay. Smith's season high was 74 in the 2013 Divisional playoff game for the Panthers. Of note, Smith played with Cam Newton all season, while Benjamin did his damage with Derek Anderson filling in for the injured Newton (ribs) on Sunday.
100: Patterson becomes first Viking to rush for 100 yards in a game in which Peterson also played
Minnesota wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson became the first Vikings player to rush for 100 yards in a game in which running back Adrian Peterson also played with a 102-yard effort Sunday. Patterson carried the ball three times, and his 67-yard touchdown run made him the first wide receiver with 50-plus-yard TD runs in consecutive games since Buffalo's Elbert Dubenion did so in the AFL days (1961).
2: Hurns first to debut with two receiving touchdowns in first quarter of first NFL game
Allen Hurns was a name known to those with deep fantasy rosters long before Week 1 began, but he debuted to the rest of the world with a Week 1 performance that included two touchdown receptions (34 and 21) in the first quarter on Sunday in Philadelphia. The Jacksonville rookie receiver became the first player in NFL history with two receiving touchdowns in the first quarter in his league debut. It helped the Jaguars jump out to a 17-0 halftime lead before falling 34-17. Hurns finished with four catches for 110 yards.
75: Two teams had a 75-yard touchdown pass in the same season-opening game for the first time since 1971
Sunday's Baltimore-Cincinnati marked the first season-opening game since 1971 in which each team had a 75-yard touchdown pass (Dallas vs. Buffalo, Sept. 19, 1971). Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green had a 77-yard touchdown catch for the game-winner in the fourth quarter of Cincinnati's 23-16 win. In his Ravens’ debut, wide receiver Steve Smith had an 80-yard touchdown reception, tying for the longest of his 14-year career.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
While most of the nation was watching the Big Ten stumble, the ACC was quietly putting together a solid resume from Week 2.
Florida State rolled to an easy win over Citadel, Clemson demolished South Carolina State, while Louisville and Duke also scored relatively easy non-conference victories.
However, the highlight of the weekend comes from Virginia Tech. The Hokies upset Ohio State in Columbus, emerging as the clear No. 1 team in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech's offense seems to be taking a step forward in coordinator Scot Loeffler's second year, and the defense continues to be one of the best in the nation.
Key Takeaways from the ACC in Week 2
Virginia Tech is the Team to Beat in the Coastal Division
Yes, only two games for the Coastal teams are in the books, but Virginia Tech is the No. 1 team in the division. And is it really close at this point? The Hokies defeated Ohio State 35-21 in Columbus to move to 2-0. Virginia Tech’s offense was the biggest question mark heading into the season, but coordinator Scot Loeffler has this unit on the right track. Sure, the Hokies averaged only 4.2 yards per play, but quarterback Michael Brewer threw for 199 yards on 23 completions and appears to be in control of the offense. The rushing attack recorded just 121 yards against a stout Ohio State defensive line. However, talented running backs Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie will improve. And of course, Virginia Tech’s defense will carry this team in most of its games. The Hokies held Ohio State to just 2.7 yards per carry and intercepted quarterback J.T. Barrett three times. Coordinator Bud Foster’s defense recorded 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks against the Buckeyes. The Coastal Division was impossible to predict in the preseason. But the favorite – for now – is clearly Virginia Tech.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
If the Hokies are No. 1 in the Coastal…Pittsburgh is No. 2?
The Coastal Division was one of the toughest to project this preseason. We have to be cautious to not overreact to just two games, but Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh appear to be the top two teams so far. The Panthers picked up a key road conference win in Week 2, defeating Boston College 30-20 on Friday night. Pittsburgh’s offense averaged 5.9 yards per play behind running back James Conner’s 213 yards. Replacing tackle Aaron Donald is a mammoth challenge for this defense, but the Panthers limited the Eagles to 4.5 yards per play and sacked quarterback Tyler Murphy four times. Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia will all have something to say about the Coastal race. However, it’s easy to believe in Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh after two solid performances to open the year.
Florida State’s Bye Week Comes at a Good Time
The timing of bye weeks is an underrated element to any schedule, and Florida State’s Week 3 off date comes at the right time. In Saturday’s efficient 37-12 win over Citadel, the Seminoles watched a couple of key defenders suffer injuries. Defensive tackles Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and Justin Shanks were injured in the victory and have two weeks to prepare for a key ACC showdown against Clemson. Outside of getting the defensive tackles healthy, Florida State can use the bye week to get its new receivers acclimated to working with quarterback Jameis Winston. Tight end Nick O’Leary led the team with five catches against Citadel, and freshman Ermon Lane stepped up with three catches for 37 yards. Winston certainly has talent on the outside, but the offense needs time to transition with the new playmakers in the receiving corps. The Seminoles haven’t played their best game this season, but with two weeks to prepare for the Tigers, it’s a safe bet we will see a better effort for Jimbo Fisher’s team on Sept. 20.
North Carolina is a Work In Progress
Despite the 2-0 start, the Tar Heels still have a lot of work to do in order to contend for the Coastal Division crown. Larry Fedora’s team has needed second-half comebacks to beat Liberty and San Diego State and ranks No. 13 in the ACC in most yards allowed per play (5.8) by a defense. North Carolina has also lost five turnovers (T-102 nationally) and allowed 28 points per game through two contests. Sure, it’s early, and the Tar Heels have 10 games to improve. However, some of the preseason concerns about this team remain. Can North Carolina take a step forward on defense? San Diego State averaged 6.9 yards per play on Saturday, the first time an opponent managed more than 5.6 against this defense since Oct. 17, 2013 against Miami. Can the offensive line improve if Landon Turner is out for a significant amount of time? Fedora has the Tar Heels trending in the right direction. However, UNC has a lot of room to improve before challenging for the Coastal title.
ACC Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 3|
|1||2-0||W, 37-12, Citadel||Bye Week|
|2||2-0||W, 35-21, Ohio State||East Carolina|
|3||1-1||W, 73-7, S.C. State||Bye Week|
|4||2-0||W, 66-21, Murray State||at Virginia|
|5||2-0||W, 30-20, BC||at FIU|
|6||2-0||W, 34-17, Troy||Kansas|
|7||2-0||W, 31-27, SDSU||Bye Week|
|8||1-1||W, 41-7, FAMU||Arkansas State|
|9||1-1||W, 45-13, Richmond||Louisville|
|10||2-0||W, 38-21, Tulane||Georgia Southern|
|11||1-1||L, 30-20, Pittsburgh||USC|
|12||1-0||Bye Week||at Central Michigan|
|13||2-0||W, 46-34, ODU||at USF|
|14||1-1||W, 23-7, Gardner-Webb||at Utah State|
The period from National Signing Day through the preseason may as well be the season of optimism in college football.
After two weeks of the season, no doubt Big Ten fans would like to revisit those happier times of late August.
The Big Ten’s hopes for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff are faint after a disastrous second week of the season. We’ve already detailed those reasons.
The question now is what’s next and what’s the payoff. Perhaps there’s a slim chance a Big Ten team finds its way back into contention, but either way, the old carrot of the Rose Bowl, this year a Playoff semifinal, is gone.
The Big Ten title is still out there, and few teams look ready to claim it. Here’s what we learned out of the Big Ten after a dismal Week 3:
Few Big Ten teams will be able to challenge Michigan State like Oregon did
It’s been said several times since Michigan State lost 46-27 to Oregon: The Spartans still feel like the Big Ten favorite. Part of that is the lackluster showing by most of the powers in the league. But there are also few reasons to think the Big Ten will be able to threaten the Michigan State defense the way Oregon did, especially as the Spartans have a bye week, Eastern Michigan and Wyoming to adjust. The Spartans had their breakdowns in the secondary, and Shilique Calhoun was quiet Saturday. Nebraska and Indiana may be the only major tests of the Michigan State defense between now and November, especially if Michigan and Ohio State remain as dysfunctional as they were this week.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
The problem at Ohio State isn’t the redshirt freshman backup QB
J.T. Barrett’s final line is dismal. He finished 9-of-29 for 219 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in the loss to Virginia Tech. He accounted for 289 yards of Ohio State’s 327 yards and 53 of the Buckeyes’ 69 plays. That’s way too much for a player in his situation. The receivers were dismal against Virginia Tech’s secondary, allowing the Hokies to crowd the box. That contributed to seven sacks and 53 yards on 15 carries for Ohio State tailbacks.
Michigan’s offense is moving backward
The Wolverines had their most futile offensive day of the Brady Hoke era, which is saying something considering last year’s issues. Michigan never advanced further than Notre Dame’s 29-yard line and never got into field goal range after the second possession of the game. The line still looks like the weak link, but Devin Gardner hasn’t helped the cause with three picks.
Where’s the offense in this league?
Sensing a theme here? Ohio State and Michigan aren’t aberrations. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (2.2 yards per carry against Western Illinois) continues to struggle with a hip injury. Iowa’s run game is mystifyingly stagnant. Northwestern has scored one first-half touchdown in two games. Maryland’s passing game is limping along against James Madison and USF despite two stud receivers. Turnovers and a limited run game hindered Penn State against Akron. Give credit to teams like Minnesota and Illinois, who at least have an established identity on offense thanks to running back David Cobb and quarterback Wes Lunt, respectively.
It’s too early for panic at Nebraska
Nebraska escaped with a win thanks to Ameer Abdullah’s 58-yard catch. Other Big Ten teams would only like to be so lucky. Receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner both left the game with injuries and defensive end Randy Gregory sat out the entire game. Now, even a shorthanded Nebraska shouldn’t need late-game heroics to beat McNeese State, but a road trip to Fresno State should give the Huskers a good chance to rebound.
Big Ten Week 3 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Pvs||Record||Last Week||This Week|
|1||1||1-1||L, Oregon 46-27||Off|
|2||4||2-0||W, Akron 21-3||at Rutgers|
|3||3||2-0||W, McNeese State 31-24||at Fresno State|
|4||6||2-0||W, Ball State 17-13||Iowa State|
|5||7||1-1||W, Western Ill. 37-3||Off|
|6||2||1-1||L, Virginia Tech 35-21||Kent State|
|7||5||1-1||L, Notre Dame 31-0||Miami (Ohio)|
|8||8||2-0||W, Middle Tenn. 35-24||at TCU|
|9||10||2-0||W, Howard 38-25||Penn State|
|10||9||2-0||W, USF 24-17||West Virginia|
|11||11||1-0||Off||at Bowling Green|
|12||13||2-0||W, Western Ky. 42-34||at Washington|
|13||12||0-2||L, Northern Ill. 23-15||Off|
|14||14||0-2||L, Central Mich. 38-17||at Notre Dame|
The Big 12’s Week 2 slate was light, but there was plenty of intrigue around the league.
Oklahoma easily handled in-state foe Tulsa, defeating the Golden Hurricane 52-7 to improve to 2-0. And in other easy victories: West Virginia trounced Towson 54-0 and Baylor gashed Northwestern State 70-6.
Charlie Strong’s debut at Texas resulted in a blowout victory over North Texas, but the Longhorns lost 41-7 to BYU in Week 2. With three starters gone on offensive line from Week 1, along with quarterback David Ash, Texas is a team in transition.
Elsewhere in the Big 12, Texas Tech needed a late score to hold off UTEP, Kansas held off SEMO and Oklahoma State cruised to a 40-23 victory over Missouri State.
Key Takeaways from the Big 12 in Week 2
Seth Russell is a Capable Replacement
Sure, Northwestern State wasn’t the best source of competition, but Baylor has to be confident in quarterback Seth Russell if Bryce Petty is out an extended amount of time. Russell was sharp in his first career start, recording 438 yards and five passing scores on 16 completions. He also added one touchdown on three rushing attempts. It certainly doesn’t hurt Russell’s cause that he’s surrounded by a talented group of skill players – hello KD Cannon and Davion Hall – but Baylor’s offense is in good hands until Petty returns.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
It’s Daxx’s Show in Stillwater
As of Sunday night, Oklahoma State has not released an official diagnosis on J.W. Walsh’s foot injury suffered against Missouri State. However, it’s safe to say the Cowboys will be without Walsh for at least a couple of weeks. Perhaps longer. Walsh will be missed, but Oklahoma State’s offense is in good hands with Daxx Garman at the controls. In his first action since the junior year of high school (2009), Garman completed 16 of 26 passes for 244 yards and two scores. The junior averaged an impressive 15.3 yards per completion against Missouri State and could be a better fit for Oklahoma State’s offense than Walsh. UTSA will be a tough opponent this Saturday, followed by a key conference game against Texas Tech on Sept. 25. Garman lacks experience, but Oklahoma State’s offense will be fine with him at the controls.
There’s Still Fight in Iowa State
After last week’s loss to North Dakota State, it was easy to write off Iowa State for a finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. However, one week later, the outlook for the Cyclones looks much better. Coach Paul Rhoads’ team nearly upset Kansas State, losing 32-28 after leading 28-20 going into the fourth quarter. Stopping the run and generating more big plays on offense is a must, but Iowa State got a solid effort from quarterback Sam Richardson and Jarvis West stepped up at receiver to help compensate for the loss of Quenton Bundrage. No, the Cyclones aren’t going to win the Big 12. However, after the loss to the Bison, most expected Iowa State to struggle to earn a couple of wins in conference play. One week later, the Cyclones showed they will not be an easy out in the Big 12 this season.
Texas Needs to Regroup
First-year coach Charlie Strong certainly has his work cut out for him over the next few weeks. The Longhorns lost 41-7 to BYU on Saturday, dropping their record to 1-1. Losing to the Cougars was really no surprise, as Texas played without the services of quarterback David Ash (concussion-like symptoms), center Dominic Espinosa (broken ankle) and offensive tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle (suspension). With a patchwork line thin on depth and a young quarterback, Texas is going to have its share of growing pains on offense. And it comes at the wrong time for the Longhorns, as a neutral site date against UCLA is up next, followed by Kansas and then matchups against two top 10 teams (Oklahoma and Baylor). Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes – who didn’t play bad against BYU – should improve next week, but it’s a lot to ask him to beat Baylor and Oklahoma without more help from the defense, receiving corps, offensive line and rushing attack.
Post-Week 2 Big 12 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 3|
|1||2-0||W, 52-7, Tulsa||Tennessee|
|2||2-0||W, 70-6, NW State||at Buffalo|
|3||2-0||W, 32-28, Iowa State||Bye Week|
|4||1-1||W, 40-23, Missouri State||UTSA|
|5||1-1||W, 54-0, Towson||at Maryland|
|7||1-1||L, 41-7, BYU||UCLA (Arlington)|
|8||2-0||W, 30-26, UTEP||Arkansas|
|9||1-1||L, 32-28, K-State||at Iowa|
|10||1-0||W, 34-28, SEMO||at Duke|
The entire nation was watching the Pac-12 in Week 2 and the league didn't disappoint.
The Ducks won what was being billed as "the most important game of the year" by FOX over a top 10 team. USC won the first of what is surely to be many Pac-12 conference bouts in dramatic fashion. And, as expected, offenses were on full display around the league as four teams scored at least 50 points and seven scored at least 40.
What could make this league the best in college football isn't just the depth, talent and coaching that is clearly among the nation's best but the week-in, week-out pure entertainment the Pac-12 has to offer. In fact, even the league's athletic directors are must-see TV.
Here is what we learned from the Pac-12 in Week 2:
Ducks confirm front-runner status
The only real questions about the Ducks entering the season were the overall level of coaching and leadership from the sidelines. Despite a "sluggish" first half, Marcus Mariota proved that not only is he the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy but that Oregon is clearly the class of the Pac-12. Oregon matched Michigan State's level of physicality — no easy feat — in what turned out to be a relatively easy win. Dropping a heavy fourth quarter hammer has become a standard storyline in Eugene as Oregon rattled off 28 unanswered points to end the game. Mariota finished with 360 yards of total offense and consistently danced around and escaped a very talented and well-coached Spartans front seven. In what was the first of many potential College Football Playoff elimination games, Oregon won decisively.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
Let's not overreact to USC, Pat Haden
The Trojans are really, really talented and are going to be really, really fun to watch every week. This, of course, includes the bizarre behavior of USC Athletic Director Pat Haden and head coach Steve Sarkisian. The AD left his suite, jogged to the USC sideline and had an unprecedented emotional exchange with officials during his program's dramatic win over Stanford. Many began calling for Haden to resign from the Playoff Committee. While Haden's behavior was inappropriate and should never happen again, the idea that he should resign from the committee is absurd. Just like, despite UCLA's early season struggles, fans shouldn't be crowning USC as the South Division favorites. Depth is still a major issue for the Trojans and they needed a 53-yard field goal to win a game that Stanford gave away with extremely poor red zone play. Coach Sark's third-down play-calling and sideline demeanor should also give fans pause before penciling the Men of Troy into the Pac-12 title game.
Balance of power shifting
It's still extremely early so avoiding overreaction is important but after two weeks, the Pac-12 South appears to have closed the gap on the North significantly. USC beat Stanford on the road and looks extremely dangerous, both Arizona schools look like division contenders and even Utah looks like it's much improved. Meanwhile, up North, Stanford is already a game back in the loss column, Washington State has played atrocious football (more on that soon) and neither Washington nor Oregon State — who have won four games over bad competition by 7.7 points per game — look capable of being mentioned among the league's better teams. Oregon is as advertised and Cal looks to be improved but it is clear that the South has, at best, drawn even with the North and, at worst, narrowed the gap significantly after two weeks of action.
What do we make of UCLA?
UCLA is 2-0. But it has beaten two teams that combined for 19 losses last year by a combined 15 points. The Bruins' defense looked outstanding against Virginia in Week 1 but the offense looked pedestrian and lacking in overall talent other than Brett Hundley. In Week 2, at home, Hundley was outstanding — try 33-for-44, 396 yards and three touchdowns. But the defense allowed 24 first downs, 469 yards of offense and nearly six yards per play against a Memphis team that was more than a three touchdown underdog. While the Bruins have survived and are unbeaten, this schedule will get dramatically more difficult in coming weeks with Texas, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon in the next four. The Bruins need to establish consistency on both sides of the ball or the phrase "playoff contender" will disappear from the UCLA commentary in rapid fashion.
Washington State has major issues
The Cougars entered the season with bowl aspirations, were completely healthy and had a quarterback poised to set more Pac-12 passing records. After two weeks, all of that has virtually disappeared. If Mike Leach wanted to make a bowl, wins over Rutgers and Nevada were must-haves but Wazzu has lost both. More concerning is how it lost to the Wolf Pack on Friday night. Nevada's defense completely outplayed Leach's high-powered Air Raid, holding Washington State to one touchdown. Leach's squad turned the ball over, was 5-of-17 on third and fourth downs and was penalized 10 times. Seven of the Cougs' remaining 10 opponents are virtual locks for bowl games and two others (Cal, Utah) appear to be much improved, so if Wazzu wants to make the postseason it will have to pull off more than a few upsets.
Pac-12 Power Rankings:
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 2|
|1.||2-0||W, 46-27, Michigan St||Wyoming|
|2.||2-0||W, 42-35, Memphis||Texas (Arlington)|
|3.||2-0||W, 13-10, Stanford||at Boston College|
|4.||1-1||L, 13-10, Stanford||Army|
|5.||2-0||W, 58-23 New Mexico||at Colorado|
|6.||2-0||W, 26-23, UTSA||Nevada|
|7.||2-0||W, 59-52, E. Washington||Illinois|
|8.||2-0||W, 38-30, Hawaii||Bye|
|9.||2-0||W, 59-27, Fresno St||Bye|
|10.||2-0||W, 55-14, Sacramento St||Bye|
|11.||1-1||W, 41-38, UMass||Arizona St|
|12.||0-2||L, 24-13, Nevada||Portland St|
There was only one game involving two SEC teams on the Week 2 slate, and Ole Miss flexed its offensive muscles in a dominating win over Vanderbilt. Elsewhere, Alabama rolled over FAU with both Blake Sims and Jacob Coker seeing significant action; South Carolina survived a scare from East Carolina thanks to a late drive powered by its running game, and Tennessee recorded another quality win over a solid mid-major opponent.
Key Takeaways from the SEC in Week 2
Ole Miss might not have a punter
This is said in jest, of course, but Ole Miss snapped the ball 88 times Saturday afternoon in Nashville, and punter Will Gleeson never trotted on to the field of play. The Rebels ran their up-tempo, spread attack to near perfection, rolling up 547 total yards en route to a 41–3 win over Vanderbilt. Ole Miss converted 10-of-15 on third down, had nine plays that went for 20 yards or more and converted on all six trips to the red zone (four TDs, two field goals). Bo Wallace was very sharp, completing 23-of-30 passes for 320 yards with one touchdowns and, most important, no interceptions. Vanderbilt did not offer much resistance, but the Ole Miss offense has a ton of weapons and will be very difficult to stop in 2014.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
Alabama’s QB competition is ongoing
Jacob Coker was solid in his first extended appearance at quarterback for Alabama, completing 15-of-24 attempts for 202 yards and one touchdown. Blake Sims, however, was better. The senior completed 11-of-13 passes for 214 and two scores. Sims doesn’t give Alabama as much of a threat in the deep passing game, but the Tide’s offense has been extremely efficient under his direction. Coker missed some opportunities down the field and looked a bit tentative at times, but we can’t forget that he has not taken many snaps at the collegiate level. Sims is clearly good enough (thanks in part to an elite supporting cast) to guide Alabama to an SEC title, but you get the feeling that the Tide will need Coker — and his down-the-field ability — to play a key role at some point. Stay tuned.
South Carolina needs to run the ball to win
The Gamecocks were forced to abandon the running game in the Week 1 loss to Texas A&M, but this team will have to lean on its talented group of tailbacks and outstanding offensive line to remain relevant in the SEC in 2014. Mike Davis, limited to 15 yards on six attempts in the opener, had 101 yard on 18 carries and two scores in Saturday’s 33–23 win over East Carolina. Brandon Wilds, who has been a valuable reserve and spot starter during his two-plus years in Columbia, added 49 yards on 14 carries. South Carolina put the game away in the fourth quarter with a clock-killing drive that featured nine straight rushing attempts during one stretch. “Everybody in the stadium knew where the ball was going, and we still had success with it,” quarterback Dylan Thompson said.
Vanderbilt takes a step back on offense
It didn’t seem possible, but Vanderbilt regressed on offense from Week 1 (a 37–7 loss to Temple) to Week 2 (a 41–3 loss to Ole Miss). On Saturday afternoon, the Commodores gained only 167 yards on 50 offensive plays and failed to score an offensive touchdown for the second straight game. Stephen Rivers, making his first start, threw for 60 yards on 25 attempts (averaging a brutal 2.4 yards per attempt) and completed only two passes to a wide receiver. Tailback Ralph Webb ran well for the second straight game — the redshirt freshman has 165 yards on 32 carries — but nothing else has gone well for the Vanderbilt offense in 2014.
Tennessee is on schedule
It’s a bit early to make reservations to the SEC title game in Atlanta, but Tennessee continues to show signs that it’s on the right path. Butch Jones’ young team improved to 2–0 with a 34–19 win over Arkansas State, the second straight solid mid-major opponent the Vols have soundly defeated. This wasn’t as dominant as the opener against Utah State, but the game was never really in doubt in the second half. This team is far from perfect — the running game has been a bit of a disappointment and the offensive line will continue to be an issue — but there is so much more talent and speed across the roster. Justin Worley might not be a perfect fit for what this staff wants from the quarterback position, but the senior has seized the job and emerged as the leader of the offense.
SEC Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1.||2-0||W, FAU, 41-0||Southern Miss|
|2.||1-0||Bye||at South Carolina|
|3.||2-0||W, SJSU 59-13||Bye|
|4.||2-0||W, Lamar 73-3||Rice|
|5.||2-0||W, Vanderbilt 41-3||UL Lafayette|
|6.||2-0||W, Sam Houston, 56-0||ULM|
|7.||2-0||W, ECU, 33-23||Georgia|
|8.||1-0||W, E. Mich., 65-0||Kentucky|
|9.||2-0||W, Toledo 49-24||UCF|
|10.||2-0||W, UAB, 47-24||at S. Alabama|
|11.||2-0||W, Ark. St., 34-19||at Oklahoma|
|12.||2-0||W, Nicholls St., 73-7||at Texas Tech|
|13.||2-0||W, Ohio, 20-3||at Florida|
|14.||0-2||L, Ole Miss, 41-3||UMass|
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of college football action:
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 2
132: Michigan State’s Yards on Final Six Drives Against Oregon
After taking a 27-18 lead against Oregon early in the third quarter, Michigan State’s offense was stuck in neutral for the rest of the game. The Ducks’ defense put the clamps on coach Mark Dantonio’s offense, holding the Spartans to just 132 yards on the final six drives. Oregon forced two three-and-outs in the second half after recording just one in the first two quarters. The Ducks also made a key stop on fourth down and picked off quarterback Connor Cook to rally for a 46-27 victory. Oregon’s defense has been criticized for its struggles against physical rushing attacks, but Don Pellum’s unit held the Spartans to just 123 yards on the ground.
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58.2: Average Length of Baylor’s TD Passes in Week 2
No Bryce Petty? No problem. Baylor’s offense maintained its big-play ability with Seth Russell at the controls, as the sophomore completed 16 of 25 passes for 438 yards and five scores. Russell’s five touchdown tosses averaged 58.2 yards per completion, with three of those going to freshman standout KD Cannon. Fellow freshman standout Davion Hall also caught one of Russell’s passes for a score. Cannon averaged 37.2 yards per catch (six receptions), as Baylor’s offense had no trouble putting points on the board against Northwestern State.
5: Broken Tackles by Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah on Winning TD
It’s only Week 2, but did the 58-yard touchdown reception by running back Ameer Abdullah with less than a minute to play save Nebraska’s season? Maybe so. Abdullah caught quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s pass and broke five tackles en route to scoring the game-winning touchdown. The Cornhuskers were not expected to have much trouble with McNeese State, but the FCS opponent nearly pulled a shocking upset in Lincoln. Abdullah is one of the top players in the Big Ten, and his big-play ability saved Nebraska from a disappointing loss.
27.1: UAB’s Per Completion Average Against Miss. State
UAB fell short in its upset bid against Mississippi State (47-34), but first-year coach Bill Clark’s team may have exposed a flaw in the Bulldogs’ defense. The Blazers completed only 16 passes and finished the game with 435 yards. UAB’s quarterbacks averaged 27.1 yards per completion, and all three touchdown tosses traveled at least 75 yards. Was this a one-time flaw or is pass defense a huge concern for Mississippi State?
9: Stanford Drives That Went Into USC Territory
If you didn’t see the game and read the box score, it would be easy to assume Stanford defeated USC just by this stat. After all, the Cardinal took all nine of their drives to at least the USC 32-yard line. But there’s just one problem. On those nine drives, Stanford scored only 10 points, missed two field goals and lost two fumbles. The Cardinal outgained USC 413 to 291 and held the Trojans’ passing attack to just 135 yards. However, with an inability to score or avoid turnovers on USC’s side of the field, Stanford couldn’t close out a key Pac-12 game.
596: Pitt RB James Conner’s Rushing Yards in Last 3 Games
Behind an improving offensive line and rushing attack, Pittsburgh is quietly on the rise in the Coastal Division. Sophomore James Conner has emerged as the Panthers’ workhorse, recording 596 yards over his last three games. Conner started this run by rushing for 229 yards in the bowl win over Bowling Green last season, recorded 153 in the opener against Delaware and gashed Boston College for 213 on Friday night. While the yardage is nice, Conner’s yards per carry is even better. The sophomore is averaging 7.5 yards per attempt and has five rushing scores through two games in 2014.
48.5: LSU WR Travin Dural’s YPC Through Two Games
It seems Anthony Jennings has edged Brandon Harris for LSU’s starting quarterback job – for now – and Dural has developed quite a rapport with Jennings. The sophomore has caught six passes for 291 yards and four scores this year, averaging a whopping 48.5 yards per catch. Dural has been the offense’s top big-play threat, averaging 55 yards on his four touchdown catches.
655: Florida’s Total Offense Against Eastern Michigan
Yes, total offense stats are misleading, but Florida’s offense had a solid debut. Under the direction of new coordinator Kurt Roper, the Gators recorded 655 yards – the most by a Florida team since beating Cincinnati 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl during the 2009 season. Florida also had six plays of 30 yards or more, which is nearly half of its total from 2013 (14).
6: Players That Scored a Rushing TD for Army
Army held off a furious rally by Buffalo to win 47-39 in new coach Todd Monken’s debut. The Black Knights executed the option almost to perfection against the Bulls, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and recording seven rushing touchdowns. Six of the seven rushing scores came via different players, including Larry Dixon, Terry Baggett, Raymond Maples and quarterback Angel Santiago.
73.7: Average Length of Ole Miss’ Scoring Drives in Week 2
Big plays are always preferred, but Ole Miss’ offense had a methodical (but impressive) showing in Week 2. The Rebels averaged 73.7 yards per touchdown drive in Week 2. Ole Miss recorded four offensive scores against Vanderbilt, with six of its 10 drives lasting at least 10 plays. Despite the methodical drives, Ole Miss still averaged a healthy 6.2 yards per play and never punted against the Commodores.
Other Stats to Know
* Pittsburgh quarterback Chad Voytik completed 10 passes in Friday night’s win over Boston College. Five of those 10 passes went to sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd. The sophomore has caught three of Voytik’s four touchdown tosses in 2014.
* Alabama tight end O.J. Howard (picked by most outlets as a preseason All-American) has zero catches through two games. Meanwhile, Amari Cooper has 25 receptions through two games – more than half of his 2013 total (45).
* SMU has scored only six points in two games. Only two times from 2012-13 were the Mustangs held under 10 points in a single contest.
* Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw five touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Fresno State. The last time the Utes had five passing scores in game was 2008 (Brian Johnson).
* Oklahoma averaged 8.4 yards per play against Tulsa in Week 2. That’s the first time since Nov. 17, 2012 the Sooners have averaged eight yards per play in a contest.
* Northwestern has lost nine out of its last 10 games.
* Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp has caught 11 passes through the first two games of the season. That’s more than half of the total he recorded all of last season (20 catches).
* Iowa State receiver Jarvis West had a standout all-around performance against Kansas State. He threw a 29-yard touchdown, caught eight passes for 77 yards and one score and returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. According to STATS LCC, he’s only the fourth player since 1996 to score on a pass, catch and punt return in a single game.
* West Virginia recorded its first shutout since Sept. 4, 2010 by blanking Towson 54-0.
* Michigan’s zero points against Notre Dame represented the first time the program has been shut out since a loss versus Iowa in 1984.
* Washington quarterback Cyler Miles accounted for four touchdowns in his 2014 debut. Miles threw for 180 yards and rushed for 58 in the Huskies’ wild 59-52 victory over Eastern Washington.
* Washington and Eastern Washington combined for 1,109 total yards on Saturday.
* North Carolina has scored a special teams or defensive touchdown in three consecutive games.
* UMass threw only nine touchdown passes last year. Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel has tossed four scores for the Minutemen in two games this season.
* Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce has recorded 100 yards receiving in back-to-back games.
* Daxx Garman averaged 15.3 yards per completion (16 of 26) in Oklahoma State’s 40-23 win over Missouri State. Garman replaced an injured J.W. Walsh.
* Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw for a career-high 322 yards in Saturday’s 17-13 win over Ball State.
* Despite being outgained 419 to 280 and converting only one third-down attempt, Eastern Kentucky defeated Miami (Ohio). The RedHawks have lost 18 consecutive games.
* Northern Illinois is 5-3 against the Big Ten since 2009.
* Eight of Ohio’s 12 drives went for 10 yards or less against Kentucky. The Bobcats lost 20-3.
* Minnesota running back David Cobb recorded 220 in Saturday’s win over MTSU. That’s the first 200-yard effort from a Gophers’ running back since 2005.
* Maryland had six turnovers, yet still managed to beat USF. The Terrapins outgained the Bulls 317 to 257.
* Arkansas averaged 12.7 yards per play against Nicholls State. All four of quarterback Brandon Allen’s throws went for scores.
* Georgia Southern averaged a whopping 11.7 yards per play in a 83-9 victory over Savannah State.
* Kansas receiver Nick Harwell (Miami, Ohio transfer) caught two touchdown passes in his debut with the Jayhawks.
* Louisiana Tech averaged 7.8 yards per play against UL Lafayette. That’s the highest per game total during Skip Holtz’s tenure.
* Through two games, Vanderbilt’s offense has managed only 22 first downs.
* Auburn has rushed for 300 yards in back-to-back games.
* Arizona State averaged nine yards per play against New Mexico.
* Boise State recorded 676 yards in Saturday’s win over Colorado State. That’s the first time the Broncos went over 600 yards of offense since Oct. 15, 2011.
* After going 52 yards on eight plays in the third quarter against Hawaii, Oregon State’s final seven drives went only 49 yards.
* Clemson held FCS opponent South Carolina State to a miniscule 0.8 yards per play.
* LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings is averaging 26.7 yards per completion.
* Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk scored six times in Saturday’s win over Toledo. His five touchdown tosses tied a school record.
The third week of the season will either be a good chance to finish some chores or a chance to see some major upsets.
After the excitement of Week 1 and the overload of primetime games in Week 2, the third week of the season brings lighter fare.
For most teams, conference seasons have yet to start, and for others the major non-conference tests are in the rearview mirror, for better or worse.
Thankfully, Georgia and South Carolina lead the way in a classic SEC showdown, provided the Gamecocks look nothing like the team that opened against Texas A&M.
The Week Ahead: Sept. 13
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
Georgia at South Carolina
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this game always seems like it determines the SEC East, even though it really doesn’t. Seriously, the last time the winner of Georgia-South Carolina played in the SEC championship game was 2010. Twice in the last three years the loser won the East. South Carolina bounced back from its embarrassing loss to Texas A&M to beat East Carolina, but the Gamecocks are settling for field goals. Georgia had a week to rest Todd Gurley. Be afraid.
Vegas says: Georgia by 2 1/2
UCF at Missouri
When and where: Noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... a Fiesta Bowl winner against the defending SEC East champ should be compelling, right? Missouri again two things well, no matter the changing personnel — pass the ball and rush the passer. UCF is starting Justin Holman, who quarterbacked the Knights to a 21-16 edge in the second half against Penn State in the opener.
Vegas says: Missouri by 9
Tennessee at Oklahoma
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... we want to see just how improved Tennessee actually is. The Volunteers have taken care of Utah State and Arkansas State. Faring well in Norman is a different story. Oklahoma hasn’t been tested much, either, but Trevor Knight has been solid in routs of Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 21
UCLA vs. Texas (Arlington)
When and where: 8 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... we have no idea what to make of this game. In an ideal world, this would be a matchup between ascendant powers in the Pac-12 and Big 12. Instead, both are searching for answers. UCLA’s defense went dormant in a close call against Memphis only a week after the D had to bail out Brett Hundley and Co. at Virginia. Charlie Strong is trying to clean house in Year 1 at Texas, but results like a 41-7 loss to BYU will rankle fans.
Vegas says: UCLA by 6
West Virginia at Maryland
When and where: Noon, Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... one of these teams is on the way up, but we’re not sure which one. Clint Trickett is looking the part of a Big 12 gunslinger, completing 64-of-85 passes for 713 yards with three touchdowns in two games this season. Maryland could have one of the better passing attacks in the Big Ten with its two star receivers, but quarterback C.J. Brown has yet to deliver a complete game, even against the likes of James Madison and USF.
Vegas says: Maryland by 4 1/2
College football has become so infatuated with new that sometimes it takes an effort to put in perspective the greatness of a familiar name.
Marcus Mariota has been in the college game longer than Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, so it’s too easy to gloss over another 300-yard passing game in a three-score win for the Ducks.
Mariota, though, did more than just add another notch to ridiculous numbers for Oregon. He did it against one of the top defensive programs and coaches in the country during the last four years.
In completing 17-of-28 passes for 318 yards with three touchdowns, Mariota led a comeback against a stout Michigan State defense and earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
“I should have to pay to watch that guy play,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. “It’s just unbelievable to watch him train, to watch him prepare, and then to see him come to fruition in this game.”
Not only did Mariota lead the Ducks to 28 unanswered second-half points in 46-27 win, he led arguably the best passing performance against a Pat Narduzzi-coached defense since 2010.
He’s only the second quarterback to top 300 yards against Michigan State during the last five seasons. At the same time, the third-highest efficiency rating against the Ducks the last five seasons.
Opposing passers vs. Michigan State since 2010
|Most Passing Yards|
|369||Dayne Crist, Notre Dame||Sept. 18, 2010 (OT)|
|318||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Sept. 6, 2014|
|295||MarQueis Gray, Minnesota||Nov. 5, 2011|
|292||Chase Coffman, Indiana||Oct. 13, 2012|
|288||Aaron Murray, Georgia||Jan. 2, 2012 (3OT)|
|Best efficiency rating|
|230.38||Ricky Stanzi, Iowa||Oct. 30, 2010|
|195.94||McElroy/McCarron, Alabama||Jan. 1, 2011|
|191.47||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Sept. 6, 2014|
|185.18||Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||Dec. 3, 2011|
|168.28||Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||Oct, 22, 2011|
National Defensive Player of the Week: Brian Walker, North Carolina
Cornerback Brian Walker helped North Carolina avoid a home upset with a pair of interceptions in a 31-27 win over San Diego State. Walker started the game with a 100-yard pick six of Quinn Kaehler in the first quarter. He added an interception in the final 5:44 to set up Carolina field goal — a three points that came in handy as San Diego State drove to the Tar Heels’ 3 before a turnover on the Aztecs’ final play.
National Freshmen of the Week: Royce Freeman/Devon Allen, Oregon
Oregon needed playmakers beyond Mariota to beat Michigan State, especially with a quiet day from running back Byron Marshall. Royce Freeman rushed for 89 yards and the final two touchdowns on 13 carries while receiver Devon Hall caught three passes for 110 yards and two scores.
National Coordinator of the Week: Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
The Hokies turned in a vintage performance against the passing game in a 35-21 win over Ohio State in Columbus. Boosted by a dominant fourth quarter, Foster’s defense made J.T. Barrett’s second career start a nightmare. The Hokies had seven sacks, two interception and held Ohio State to 9-of-29 passing.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Pittsburgh running back James Conner rushed for 213 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 30-20 win over Boston College.
Big 12: Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters completed 16-of-29 passes for 239 yards and rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 32-28 win over Iowa State.
Big Ten: Minnesota running back David Cobb rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in a 35-24 win over Middle Tennessee.
SEC: Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser caught five passes for 121 yards with two touchdowns and forced a fumble on an interception return in a 49-24 win over Toledo.
American: Memphis linebacker Tank Jakes had 12 tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks in a 42-35 loss to UCLA.
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 48-20 win over UL Lafayette.
MAC: Central Michigan running back Thomas Rawls rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in a 38-17 win over Purdue. He also caught three passes for 50 yards.
Mountain West: Boise State running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a 37-24 win over Colorado State.
Sun Belt: South Alabama running back Jay Jones rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a 23-13 win over Kent State.
Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 23-of-34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns in a 31-0 win over Michigan.
The Heisman race is the only sports award that determines its field of contenders before the season actually starts. As such, we’ll keep track of all the contenders (and pretenders) for the award here.
In Week 2, the potential frontrunner Marcus Mariota had perhaps the most impressive game against the Michigan State defense in four seasons, but he wasn’t the only one to make noise on the big state.
Here’s how the field performed in the second week of the year:
Mariota had the best passing day against a Michigan State defense since 2010. His 318 yards was the most since Penn State’s Matt McGloin’s 312 and his efficiency rating (191.5) and yards per attempt (11.4) were the best against Sparty since Alabama in the Capital One Bowl that year.
Hill picked up a nice highlight with this hurdling of a Texas defender. More important, the Cougars quarterback has become much more sound a passer, completing 73 percent of his passes this season. He’s also rushed for 196 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of road games.
Welcome back, Everett. The Notre Dame quarterback continued to show command of the Irish offense by completing 23-of-34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan. He’s completing 66.1 percent of his passes this season compared to 58.8 in 2012.
|Bryce Petty||Rest assured, Petty would have done awful, horrible things to Northwestern State if he were healthy. Instead, he sat out to rest his back. That may turn out to be a boost for his season, but for now it’s a very minor setback. Seth Russell completed 16-of-25 passes for 438 yards with five touchdowns in Petty’s absence.|
|Jake Waters||Waters turned in a Collin Klein-like effort against Iowa State, especially running the ball on third downs. He was 16-of-29 for 238 yards passing while rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a second-half comeback against Iowa State.|
|Shaq Thompson||Playing on a defense that allowed 52 points and 573 yards to Eastern Washington should sting, but Chris Petersen lived up to his promise to play Thompson on offense. He rushed for a 57-yard touchdown for one of his three carries. He also finished with 14 tackles and a sack.|
|Christian Hackenberg||Shouldering the load for Penn State is tough. A week after setting a school record with 454 passing yards against UCF, Hackenberg threw two interceptions against Akron. He finished with 319 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t pretty.|
In two weeks, the Big Ten is doing its part to make sure the College Football Playoff selection committee doesn’t have to address one of its fundamental issues.
As of Sept. 6, the dilemma of picking potential representatives of five power conferences for four playoff spots seems to be a moot point. After only two weeks, Big Ten teams will have trouble making a compelling argument for Playoff inclusion.
Among the only teams still undefeated in the Big Ten are the two new arrivals (Maryland and Rutgers), a team serving a postseason ban (Penn State) and Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. In other words, none of the programs the Big Ten expected to carry the banner for the league in the first year of the Playoff.
In some ways, a team that lost by 19 still looks like the top team in the league.
That’s how bad the Big Ten’s most critical weekend in years transpired.
In a week when Big Ten teams lost to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, went toe-to-toe with Ball State and McNeese State, and lost in a historic rout to Notre Dame, Michigan State’s back-and-forth against Oregon at Autzen is respectable by comparison.
The narrative of a potential Big Ten bounce-back year, starting with Wisconsin’s 24-7 lead over LSU in the third quarter a week ago, has dissipated into another season of limited relevance for the league on a national scale.
Here’s a step-by-step look at how the Big Ten has bigger problems than missing out on the Playoff:
Wisconsin’s moment evaporates
LSU came back from a 17-point deficit in the top game of Week 1 to defeat Wisconsin 28-24. Wisconsin’s Heisman contender Melvin Gordon was limited by a hip injury, and quarterback Tanner McEvoy proves incapable of moving the ball in the passing game. A week later, Wisconsin led Western Illinois 9-3 in the first half before rallying for 28 unanswered points in the second.
Pelini’s blood pressure is not improving
With defensive end Randy Gregory sidelined for the entire game and receiver Kenny Bell out for the second half, Nebraska needed running back Ameer Abdullah to save the day with a late touchdown catch in a 31-24 win. Even considering Nebraska’s 55-7 win over FAU in the opener, this isn’t the look of a potential top-10 team.
Not the easiest 2-0, but it will do
Limited by scholarship sanctions and banned from the postseason, Penn State pulled away away from Akron to win 21-3 after a 14-point second half, a week after a game-winning field goal as time expired against UCF in Dublin. Three turnovers and a lackluster running game don’t inspire confidence for Penn State.
Hey, at least Illinois saved face
Two weeks and two big fourth quarters saved Illinois from a winless start. Illinois trailed Youngstown State 9-7 going into the fourth and trailed Western Kentucky 27-21 before pulling away for a pair of wins. Quarterback transfer Wes Lunt is helping Illinois save face.
Iowa’s gonna Iowa
After missing three field goals and turning the ball over twice, Iowa overcame a 10-point deficit against Ball State in the fourth quarter to win 17-13. A week earlier, Iowa needed the fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Iowa for a 31-23 win.
The MAC strikes back
A week after losing to Cal, a team that went 1-11 in 2013, Northwestern lost 23-15 to Northern Illinois. Northwestern lost 2.5 yards per carry in two games. The Wildcats, whose top running back transferred and top receiver was injured shortly before the season, have lost nine of their last 10 games. At Northwestern was competitive against a MAC foe. After dodging a home loss to Western Michigan, Purdue lost 38-17 to Central Michigan.
The Big Ten’s moment slips away
For a time, a Big Ten looked to be on the verge of a headlining win for the conference as the Spartans take a 27-18 win at Autzen Stadium against Oregon. The Ducks adjusted on defense while Marcus Mariota led four scoring drives against a stout Michigan State defense. The Spartans lost 46-27. No Big Ten team will have a better opportunity to impress the selection committee this season.
Michigan embarrasses itself
It’s one thing to lose a rivalry game on the road to a ranked team. What happened to Michigan was humiliating — a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in a game that featured four turnovers and two missed field goals. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, hired to fix Michigan’s run game and consistency issues, has now presided over the Wolverines’ first shutout since 1984.
The Big Ten's last hope loses the fourth quarter
The final team in action Saturday, Ohio State clung to a chance to salvage the day for the Big Ten with a 21-21 fourth quarter with Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ pressure, though, was relentless with seven sacks and three interceptions of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The offensive line was leaky, and Ohio State tailbacks contributed 53 rushing yards on 15 carries. The question, then, is if even Braxton Miller could have saved this team.
Reigning AFC Champion Denver begins its quest for a return trip to the Super Bowl by hosting Indianapolis tonight on NBC. Broncos’ general manager John Elway has retooled the defense in hopes of giving Peyton Manning and the offense more support. Andrew Luck and the Colts are aiming for a second straight AFC South title and are eager to show that they belong among their conference’s elite teams with a strong showing in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, one of the NFL’s toughest road environments.
Luck was victorious in his first head-to-head matchup against Manning, a 39-33 victory in Week 7 last season that spoiled the latter’s Indianapolis homecoming and handed the Denver its first defeat. The Colts’ task figures to be much tougher this time around considering the Broncos went 9-1 at home in 2013 (including playoffs) and outscored opponents by more than 17 points per game.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Denver -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Denver Gets Defensive?
After the Seahawks manhandled the Broncos on both sides of the ball in Super Bowl XLVIII, general manager John Elway knew he had to make some changes, especially on defense. A flurry of offseason moves resulted in the departure of some key pieces and addition of several new faces, none bigger than defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. The hope is that Ware will pair with Von Miller, who’s returning from a torn ACL suffered in the playoffs, to form one of the league’s most fearsome pass-rushing tandems, while Talib and Ward will not only solidify the secondary, which had its issues last season, but also bring a degree of physicality and a nasty streak that was missing last season. Indianapolis, which put up 39 points and 334 yards on the Broncos last season, figures to be a good test for this revamped defense. Linebacker play could be key, as Denver will be without leading tackler Danny Trevathan, who fractured his knee during training camp and won’t be back until mid-October at the earliest.
2. Indianapolis Changing Its Luck on Offense?
Andrew Luck has been everything advertised and then some since being taken No. 1 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Not only as he seamlessly replaced Peyton Manning as the Colts’ franchise quarterback, he’s led his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons and set some records of his own along the way. Luck is not the issue as far as this offense goes, which could be even more potent with wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen both back from injury and wideout Hakeem Nicks added to the mix. No, the question marks lie up front and in the backfield. Luck has been sacked 73 times in his first two seasons and the offensive line’s outlook is cloudy entering 2014. Projected starting left guard Donald Thomas tore his quadriceps in training camp, ending his season, while potential starting center Khaled Holmes has been hampered by an ankle injury. This unit as a whole was pretty banged up during the preseason and has been able to practice together very little. First-round pick Jack Mewhort will be under pressure to perform from the very beginning, as he is slated to replace Thomas at left guard. As far as running back goes, Indianapolis is still waiting on Trent Richardson to play like the All-American he was at Alabama. Last season, Richardson averaged 2.9 yards per carry after being traded from the Browns prior to Week 3. A healthy Ahmad Bradshaw should provide more depth in the backfield, which is vital with last year’s leading rusher Donald Brown now in San Diego. To put it another way, Brown and Luck combined for more than half of the Colts’ rushing yards (914 of 1,743) and two thirds of the team’s rushing touchdowns (10 of 15) in 2013. Luck and the passing game can’t be expected to carry this offense alone, not if Indianapolis wants to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
3. The Broncos’ New Workhorses
Denver scored an NFL-record 606 points last season, but saw its leading rusher (Knowshon Moreno) and No. 2 wide receiver (Eric Decker) leave via free agency. The offense shouldn’t miss a beat, however, with second-year running back Montee Ball poised to carry the load out of the backfield and former Pittsburgh wideout Emmanuel Sanders a more than capable pass-catcher. Sanders’ early contributions will be even more critical considering Wes Welker, who was already questionable due to a concussion he suffered during the preseason, is suspended for the first four games for a violation of the league’s policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. That said, the Broncos would actually prefer to run the ball more this season. Ball was more than effective (4.7 yards per carry) in the limited touches he got as a rookie and the coaching staff is ready to see what he can do with a bigger workload. And even without the services of Welker, it’s not like Peyton Manning lacks for options to throw to. After all, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas combined for 157 receptions, 2,208 yards and 26 touchdowns. Another potential scary thought for opposing defenses this season: Denver’s offensive line should be even better with All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady back from injury. That’s hard to imagine considering last year’s line gave up just 20 sacks and helped pave the way for an offense that piled up more than 450 yards per game. Also don’t forget that Indianapolis will be without its best pass-rusher, as Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, is suspended the first four games for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Andrew Luck holds a 1-0 edge over Peyton Manning, his predecessor in Indianapolis, but that win came at home. This time, Luck and the Colts have to beat Manning and the Broncos on their home turf. Denver dominated opponents at Sports Authority Field at Mile High during the 2013 regular season to the tune of an average score of 40-23. Even without Wes Welker, the Broncos’ offense should be able to move the ball and get into the end zone fairly easily against an Indianapolis defense that will be without its best pass-rusher. In fact, the more intriguing matchup to watch could be Denver’s retooled defense against Luck and the Colts’ offense. With offensive line issues and questions at running back, this is a good barometer game to see if the Broncos’ defense is as championship-caliber as the offense.
Prediction: Denver 38, Indianapolis 27
Two of the NFL’s most successful and recognized franchises face off to open their 2014 seasons, as the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys are set to meet this afternoon on FOX. The 49ers are looking to dethrone the Seahawks in the NFC West and get back to the Super Bowl, while the Cowboys desperately want to end their four-season playoff drought.
Dallas has gone 8-8 in each of the past three seasons and seems far removed from the glory days of the 1990s when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in a span of four years. The pressure is on head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo to get this team back into the postseason. San Francisco is just two seasons removed from its last trip to the Super Bowl and will have to overcome some key personnel absences early in its quest to get back to the big game and take care of some unfinished business.
This will be the 34th meeting all-time, including playoffs, between these two franchises, which have each won five Super Bowls. Fittingly, the series is tied 16-16-1 with San Francisco holding a 14-11-1 edge in the regular season and Dallas leading 2-5 in the playoffs. The last time these teams met was back in Week 2 of the 2011 season in San Francisco, a game the Cowboys won 27-24 in overtime.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: San Francisco -5
Three Things to Watch
1. San Francisco’s Depleted Defense
The 49ers ranked among the top five defenses in the NFL last season in yards, points, rushing yards and passing yards allowed, as well as turnover differential. While this unit remains largely intact this season, it will be without some key pieces initially. All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman will start this season on the PUP list as he continues his recovery from the horrific knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle, meaning he will be out at least the first six games. Fellow linebacker Aldon Smith will sit out the first nine games due to a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies. That coupled with the loss of defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (torn biceps) means three of the expected starters will not be suiting up against Dallas. San Francisco still has All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis anchoring the unit with plenty of proven talent elsewhere, but this is a defense that won’t be operating at anywhere near full strength. And while the Cowboys have their own issues (i.e., the defense), there are enough playmakers at the skill positions and a solid enough offensive line that the home team could give the visitors fits when it has the ball, especially if the 49ers’ defensive fill-ins struggle early in their new roles.
2. Dallas’ Decimated Defense
San Francisco’s defense may be depleted, but it’s still in far better shape than its counterpart. For starters, the 49ers were a top-five unit last season while the Cowboys gave up the third most yards in NFL history. Even though San Francisco will be missing a couple of All-Pros for this game, there’s still plenty of talent left among the two-deep. Dallas, on the other hand, bid farewell to both their all-time (DeMarcus Ware) and last season’s sack leader (Jason Hatcher) in the offseason, lost their best linebacker (Sean Lee) to a season-ending injury early in training camp, and will be down at least two defensive linemen in Anthony Spencer (knee) and second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence (broken foot). On top of that, starting cornerback Orlando Scandrick is suspended the first four games for a violation of the league’s policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. To put it another way, every level of this defense has already been impacted in a significant way, and remember this was a unit that gave up more than 415 yards and 27 points per game in 2013. Last season was bad enough, but this season could be even worse for the Cowboys’ defense.
3. 49ers’ Offensive Approach
With Dallas’ defense seemingly ripe for the pickings, the question becomes how does San Francisco go about attacking it. The 49ers were extremely effective in running the ball last year, finishing fourth in the NFL in that category, but wound up near the bottom (30th) in passing. Put the two together and you get the 24th-ranked offense in terms of yards and 11th in scoring. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is old school in his approach; so don’t expect much deviation from that. Frank Gore has rushed for more than 1,100 yards in each of the last three seasons and the team has added second-round pick Carlos Hyde to the mix. However, the passing game also will look a little different this season with top wide receiver Michael Crabtreee healthy (although he's officially listed as Questionable with a calf injury) and former Buffalo No. 1 wideout Stevie Johnson joining Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis as primary targets. If the 49ers want to become even tougher to defend on offense, they need to let quarterback Colin Kaepernick throw the ball more than the 26 attempts he averaged per game last season. With the weapons seemingly in place and the appealing matchup against Dallas’ decimated defense, is this the game San Francisco finally decides to air it out a little more?
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett enters this season squarely on the hot seat and, unfortunately, things have already gone against him. The NFL’s worst defense last season has been decimated further by offseason changes, injuries and suspensions. While Tony Romo and the Cowboys should be able to put plenty of points on the board, the defense will likely outpace the offense on a consistent basis. And that’s not a good thing. Meanwhile San Francisco has its sights set squarely on knocking Seattle from its perch atop the NFC West and potentially spoiling their archrival’s hopes for a repeat Super Bowl title. The 49ers won’t be at full strength on defense for this one, but they have too much talent on both sides of the ball and should face minimum resistance in AT&T Stadium against the overmatched Cowboys.
Prediction: San Francisco 31, Dallas 23
BYU easily handled Texas 41-7 on Saturday night. Quarterback Taysom Hill was the catalyst for the Cougars’ victory, throwing for 181 yards on 18 completions and rushing for 99 yards and three scores on 24 attempts.
Hill’s dual-threat ability gave the Texas defense fits last year, so his performance on Saturday night wasn’t a surprise.
Hill made one of the weekend’s top players by hurdling a defender on a touchdown run in the second half.
LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was one of the nation’s top recruits and there was considerable hype surrounding his debut this year. Fournette was quiet in the opener against Wisconsin and rushed for only 18 yards on eight carries.
Fournette’s numbers against Sam Houston State were better, as the freshman recorded a touchdown and over 50 yards in just over two quarters of work.
However, Fournette’s touchdown drew the ire of coach Les Miles, as the freshman struck a Heisman pose.
Check out Fournette’s touchdown run and Heisman pose:
After Saturday night, Notre Dame and Michigan both should have good reason to want to continue a rivalry that ended with a 31-0 Irish win.
Notre Dame certainly would want to continue to embarrass Michigan in perpetuity. Michigan would likely want to play this one again.
Instead, the Wolverines will have to deal with the trash talking until a bowl game or resumption of the series brings the two programs together. In the long history of the series between college football’s two winningest program, no game between the two has featured a Wolverines shutout.
The win is one that gives us a new perspective on a shorthanded Notre Dame and its quarterback while giving Michigan coach Brady Hoke a new host of problems just two weeks into the season.
Read and React: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
This Notre Dame Team Can’t Be Ignored
After an academic fraud issue cost Notre Dame its best corner, defensive lineman and receiver, Notre Dame seemed destined for a mediocre season. That’s not going to happen, it seems. The Irish have defeated their first two opponents by a combined score of 79-17 and should be 4-0 when they face Stanford on Oct. 4. And if Stanford continues to play the way it did against USC, Notre Dame may be favored by the time the Cardinal plays in South Bend.
Everett Golson has Blossomed
Golson’s return from a year-long absence has been nothing short of triumphant. He was 23-of-34 for 226 yards with three touchdowns against Michigan. Compare his performance Saturday to the last time we saw Golson in 2012. Could Golson as a redshirt freshman have won a game without his top receiver and a run game that managed just 1.7 yards per carry? Not likely. Golson as a junior led that team to a 31-0 rout.
The Michigan Offense Hasn’t Changed
Sure, the scheme is different and the coordinator is new, but the results are painfully similar. The run game was ineffective at 35 carries for 100 yards (2.9 yards per carry). And Devin Gardner was as mistake-prone as he was a year ago with three interceptions. Take away receiver Devin Funchess, and Michigan had only 82 yards through the air.
Brady Hoke is in for a Long Season
Hoke seemed to have the same uncomfortable expression for most of the second half, which isn’t surprising since the game was out of reach in the second quarter. For a coach who has put a premium on rivalry games, this one will haunt the rest of the year. He’s replaced his offensive coordinator and brought in two top 10 signing classes in the last three seasons. Michigan is running short on answers If the honeymoon wasn’t over before, it is now.
Oregon has done many things since it became the leading program in the country for the hurry-up spread offense.
Saturday, though, may be one of its finest moments.
The Ducks scored 46 points against a Michigan State/Pat Narduzzi defense. Consider this: Ohio State and Stanford didn’t put up 46 points combined against the Spartans at the end of last season. No team since Alabama in a 2010 bowl game scored this much against the Spartans.
Yet, offense is so commonplace for Oregon, sometimes it seems the big takeaway for the Ducks was the defense. Either way, even though the weekend wasn’t the prettiest for the Pac-12, Oregon is right where it needs to be.
Read and React: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
Mark Helfrich Gets Much-Needed Validation
Perhaps it never was fair to doubt Oregon simply because second-year coach Mark Helfrich is not Chip Kelly — especially after Oregon won 11 games last season. Helfrich and his staff, including first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum, can’t be doubted anymore. Oregon took Michigan State’s best shot, falling behind by nine in the third quarter before outscoring the Spartans 28-0 in the final 19:33. In many ways, this looked like a Chip Kelly effort — close for a stretch before Oregon turned on the jets in the second half for a lopsided win. And that's the best compliment we can offer Helfrich.
Oregon Rallied on Defense
Speaking of major coaching developments, Oregon won on the strength of its defense in the second half after key adjustments from the first year coordinator Pellum. Oregon ramped up the pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook in the second half. The Spartans moved the ball 10 total yards on 12 plays on three possessions after taking a 28-17 lead — and that was before a fourth-down stop and this interception from All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Marcus Mariota Made His Statement
Mariota almost made it look routine even if there was nothing routine about his second half against Michigan State. He went 7-of-12 for 128 yards with a pair of touchdowns and was finally able to break loose in the run game with 27 rushing yards. As Oregon plays without a full roster on offense — no Bralon Addison, no Tyler Johnstone, and only five carries for nine yards from Byron Marshall — Mariota moved the offense almost single handedly. And he did it against one of the most formidible defenses in the country.
Michigan State May Still be the Class of the Big Ten
That’s the kind of day it was for the Big Ten. A team that lost by 19 may still be the favorite in the league. Based on what we’ve seen so far, how many other Big Ten teams lead Oregon by 9 in the second half in Autzen? Certainly not Michigan, Ohio State or Wisconsin. Michigan State held Oregon’s run game in check for most of the first three quarters. Michigan State held Oregon to 3.4 yards per carry. Since 2011, only Stanford and LSU have done better. And while Michigan State’s offense couldn’t move late in the game, Connor Cook still finished 29-of-47 for 343 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
USC’s upset of Stanford may have not been convincing enough to reset all of our expectations of the Pac-12, but it was a statement.
USC proved a week ago it can win with a dominating performance. Saturday proved the Trojans can win ugly.
Meanwhile, Stanford played an out-of-character game as the Cardinal missed scoring chance after scoring chance in a mistake-filled game from beginning to end.
Here’s what we learned from Sark’s signature win:
Read and React: USC 13, Stanford 10
USC Found a Way
Stanford spent much of the game self-destructing, but USC didn’t play a clean game, either. A week after running 105 plays against Fresno State, the Trojans were on the field for a mere 59 against Stanford. Stanford was able to keep the USC passing game in check as Cody Kessler went 15-of-23 for 135 yards with a touchdown. This wasn’t exactly a dominant effort by any means — particularly as the USC defense allowed Stanford to penetrate on every possession — but it’s tough to argue against a road win over the defending Pac-12 champion.
Still, Steve Sarkisian Gets an Early Signature Win
USC has established itself as a realistic Pac-12 South contender, and its credentials could improve even more over the next month. The Trojans visit Boston College next week and face Oregon State at home on Sept. 27. After that, USC gets the Arizona schools back to back with the Wildcats on the road. Navigate that stretch and stay healthy, and USC could play for the South against UCLA to finish this season. Considering the way the season started with the Josh Shaw fiasco, the ugly departure of Anthony Brown and a roster whittled to 57 scholarship players in Palo Alto, and Sarkisian has to be thankful to be 2-0.
Stanford Can’t Win the Pac-12 North with this Offense
Look at that drive chart for Stanford, nine trips inside the USC 40-yard line and 10 points. That’s 1.1 points per trip inside the 40, a metric considered to be more telling that red zone offense. Stanford averaged 4.1 points per trip inside the 40 last season. The Stanford offense moved the ball at will at times, but collapsed on USC’s side of the field. A team spending that much time in its opponents’ territory should have won easily, but Stanford walked away with three fumbles (two lost), two missed field goals and a loss. There were penalties, including two pre-snap penalties out of a time out, but Stanford playcalling with two punts inside the 35 didn't inspire confidence, either.
|QTR||Best Field Position||Drive Ended||Result|
|1||Second down, USC 21||USC 32||Missed FG (49 yards)|
|2||First down, USC 17||USC 29||Punt|
|2||Third down, USC 2||--||Touchdown|
|2||Third down, USC 7||USC 16||Made FG (33 yards)|
|3||Fourth down, USC 9||USC 9||Missed FG (26 yards)|
|3||Fourth down, USC 3||USC 3||Failed fourth down|
|3||First down, USC 32||USC 28||Fumble lost|
|4||Third down, USC 23||USC 32||Punt|
|4||Second down, USC 22||USC 25||Fumble lost|
Andre Heidari is USC’s MVP against Stanford ... Again
USC’s kicker is a senior. That’s the good news for Stanford. The bad news for the Caridnal is that he’ll leave with two long game-winning kicks against Stanford. Heidari kicked a 47-yarder in the final 19 seconds to beat Stanford last year and topped that with a 5e-yarder Saturday. He’s the BMOC in LA.